Watering the Garden: You Can Relax this Summer

Right now it’s hard to imagine that the super-saturated ground in the Seattle area will ever dry out. But it will, and quickly — remember last summer? It doesn’t take long once the dry season comes. And the last few years, we have even been surprised by some hot days early in the season.

If you are not into watering by hand and have ruled out automated watering — or if you simply want to conserve natural resources — you’ll need to:

  1. Start with the right plants
  2. Use water efficiently

At the peak of summer, few gardens can get by without some supplemental watering (the exceptions being certain types of plants and trees that are very well established, or a rock garden).

Look at the lawn

Let’s start by drought-proofing your lawn. Grass is an expensive ground cover, and if it’s not watered and maintained, it’s a brown eyesore for months. Think about replacing that lawn with a stepable ground cover or drought-tolerant succulents.  Most are very easy to grow and many can also handle soggy Northwest winters.

Drought-tolerant plants, native and non-native

When looking at drought-tolerant plants for the garden, it’s easy to get bogged down in plant selection. Northwest native plants might sound like a good choice. They are already adapted to this climate and can survive a short dry spell. However, our yards aren’t much like the environments where these plants naturally occur, so there is no guarantee of success. And, sad to say, most native plants don’t offer much in the way of “eye candy” in the summer garden. If you are a purist and want a native plant garden, you will find a long list of easy-to-grow plants — just don’t demand too much of them in the way of appearance.

If you add drought-tolerant plants that are non-natives into the mix, you’ll find there are a lot more possibilities. Colorful perennials, plants with interesting leaves, bark, and fall color are readily available. You can see examples of this type of garden, mixing native and non-native plants, in my online Portfolio.

Previous Design Tips blog posts talk about my top picks for plants, shrubs, and trees that do well in the Pacific Northwest.

Designing the water-wise garden

Working with plants on a regular basis for years, I’ve learned what conditions they need to thrive in our region. This helps me decide what plants to use for any application — and, just as importantly, what plants not to use.

Once the framework for a garden design starts to take shape, then plant selection is an important part of making the landscape work. That’s when considerations like ease of maintenance and drought tolerance come into play. But keep in mind that there are many other criteria that influence what type of plants will thrive in your garden, especially in a sunny Northwest summer.

Call us  for a consultation to discuss garden enhancements, landscape renovations and sustainable gardens.














Maybe It’s Time To Lose The Lawn

SAM_3841Are you trying to conserve water this summer — and dreading the prospect of a bleak, brown and brittle lawn?

It is not only lack of moisture, but intense heat, that causes a lawn to “brown out” this early in the Pacific Northwest. With this year’s unpredictable weather and a changing climate, it’s time to consider lawn substitutes. Don’t panic: There are some that won’t make your garden look like the Sahara Desert.

  • Keep it simple. If you like the clean look of a lush, rolling lawn, you may want a single variety of a drought-tolerant ground cover. Ground covers don’t require much care or watering. Most need some watering until they are established, but only a fraction of the moisture required to keep a grass lawn verdant all summer.
  •  Mix it up. Use two or more varieties of ground cover and create a tapestry of color and texture. Many bloom at some point during the late spring or summer so they also offer color. “Stepable” ground cover will tolerate foot traffic to varying degrees, but not heavy usage or usage for extended periods. If you require durability in your paths and walkways, stick with stone or pavers.
  • Do something completely different. A lawn can be turned into a water-wise landscape using hardy plants — ones like lavender, that often get over watered in a traditional ornamental garden. You can create a water-wise Seattle landscape using herbs and plants with origins from hotter, dryer climates – like the Mediterranean. Some examples include Grasses, Sedum, mat-forming Thyme and drought-tolerant perennials
  • “Rock out.” A natural-looking dry riverbed or stone-lined pond adds interest  when planted with attractive ground cover, grasses and easy-to-maintain perennials.

Theses solutions require some maintenance to keep them looking tidy, but none of the weekly mowing, edging, regular watering, fertilizing that is required to keep a lawn green and weed-free in the summer.

If you want some lawn for kids, pets and summer activities, try reducing the size of the lawn and eliminate areas you do not use regularly. Remember when replanting those areas to choose plants that will fit the space long-term and that are compatible with those around it.

Contact us for design consultation and to learn more about the best plants for your Pacific Northwest garden.

Summertime Watering

The driest months in the Pacific Northwest are July, August, September and sometimes October. Add June to the mix this year and it’s time to get a watering plan in place — whether your garden is drought tolerant or not.

Sun and heat combined will quickly erase any water reserves stored below the surface of the soil.  Fine-tuning your watering techniques will not only conserve water but also will create healthier plants and extend your garden’s good looks through the summer. Some plants only need to dry out once in hot sun for it to be fatal.

Tips for watering:

  • Get water to the bottom of the root zone. This promotes drought tolerance by encouraging roots to go deep in the soil, instead of staying on the surface where they can dry out quickly. After a few tries, you’ll know how long the water needs to run.
  • Always water during the cooler part of the day to lessen evaporation (except for mildew-prone plants). I prefer watering at night. The water cools the leaves and sits on the foliage all night. Keep in mind that plants also take in water through their leaves
  • Make sure you mulch around the plants. Use at least 2 inches of mulch.
  • Plant densely so the sun can’t overheat exposed soil and injure the plant roots underneath.

As your landscape matures and plants become well established, you’ll be able to cut back the frequency of watering.

Contact us to learn about water-wise gardens and the choosing the best plant for any location.

Water thoroughly and keep your garden healthy

Especially this year, our typically dry July, August and September quickly erase any reserves stored below the surface of the soil.  Fine-tuning watering techniques can not only conserve water but also create healthier plants.

Keys to watering:

  • My answer is to water deeply and less frequently.  This can be accomplished most easily with either a drip or soaker irrigation system.  The drip system can be set to water individual plants, shrubs, or trees.  The water requirements of different plants can be met by using different sized emitters, and by placing several emitters on large shrubs or trees.
  • A soaker system will water the whole garden evenly and can be hidden underneath mulch.
  •  Hand watering is also an option, but make sure that the water is penetrating deeply.
  • The final way to irrigate is with an old-fashioned sprinkler head.  Make sure that the spray hits all areas and that you leave it on long enough to water deeply.

Tips for watering:

  •  Getting water to the bottom of the root zone promotes drought tolerance by keeping the roots deep in the soil, instead of on the surface where they can dry out quickly. Water should soak in deep enough so all roots are thoroughly wet.  The first few times you water, test to see how deep it goes.  After a few tries, you’ll know how long the water needs to run.
  • Always water during the cooler part of the day to lessen evaporation.  Nighttime or early morning is best.
  • Make sure you mulch.
  • Plant densly enough so plant roots are not overheated by the sun.

As your garden matures and plants become well established, you’ll be able to cut back the frequency of watering.

Michael Muro Garden Design offers garden planning and comprehensive landscape design in Washington State.